By Yvette McCullough of RNZ

The State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes has told the High Court that claims he acted politically when he briefed his minister about Winston Peters' superannuation payment are "untrue and unfounded".

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is taking legal action against Hughes, former Ministry of Social Development boss Brendan Boyle, and former National ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley for allegedly breaching his privacy.

In the heat of the 2017 election campaign, the ministers were briefed that Peters had been overpaid his pension by nearly $18,000 over seven years due to an error on his application.

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Peters said the use of the "no surprises" policy for briefing ministers was a "sham".

"The allegations that I acted politically are untrue and unfounded and I absolutely reject them," Hughes said.

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes. File photo / Mark Mitchell
State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes. File photo / Mark Mitchell

He said political neutrality is central to his role, and he is charged with setting standards of integrity across the public sector. He said any suggestion he acted against this principal when he briefed Bennett is false. "I never, ever let politics enter into what I do or the decisions I make."

Hughes said the overpayment and the Ministry of Social Development's handling of it went to the heart of the integrity of the state sector — and happened against the backdrop of former Greens co-leader Metiria Turei's admission she made false statements to receive more benefit payments.

He said ministers have a responsibility to assure the House their ministries have acted appropriately — and in this case, to be able to assure Peters was treated equally, and without fear or favour.

Peters' lawyer Brian Henry put it to him that those assurances could have been made, without naming his client. Hughes disagreed and said that approach would have been "too vanilla" and would not have made sense in this context.

- RNZ